I am a picky eater. Not by choice. I'd like to think I have refined taste buds. If I try something once or twice and I don't like it, I can't see the point in forcing myself to eat it. I also have a sensitive gag reflex. I can't think of a prettier way to say that, so, pardon me. There are some dishes that I cannot even hope keep down (calamari bad, takoyaki -fried balls of octopus- good). So, the next time I politely decline food, don't take it personally... it would be far more rude to lose my lunch all over yours (first grade, wild rice, and my mom made me write an apology note). Why am I randomly writing about this now? Well, because I was thinking about the foods that I am fiercely fond of earlier today. I wanted to write about it, and even though it doesn't have a whole lot to do with my Miami life, I figured I would put it on this blog.
I was eating a tomato a few moments ago. I love tomatoes. I crave tomatoes. I despise those mealy, shiny, red spheres the average grocery store passes off as tomatoes. The uglier the tomato, the better it is. Red, orange, yellow, brownish purple, and green... I want them all. Down here in Miami, I usually go for heirloom tomatoes. They are very good, but they are nothing compared to a homegrown tomato that has warmed in the afternoon sun, so ripe it comes off the vine with the lightest tug. One of the first treats that I can remember was sharing a tomato from my grandpa's garden with my grandma and my little brother. We picked it right off the plant: a big, fat, juicy tomato and we took turns taking bites out of it like it was an apple, sprinkling it with a bit of salt... I think of that happy time whenever I eat a fresh tomato. Now I usually cut it up and garnish it with sea salt and pepper. If my husband is lucky, he'll get a slice or two. Every time I see one of those ugly, glorious tomatoes in the store I buy a couple, but I know I'll never recreate that moment in the sun, when I was very young.
Mushrooms are another food I adore. I should be disgusted by them, like I said, my preferences are irrational. They are fungi and I am a neat freak, but that is fungus I can get behind. I love sauteed mushrooms. I have good memories of meeting up with a friend in high school and we would just fry up an entire carton of them: butter, salt, mushrooms. Delicious. And the first time I had morels?! My mouth waters just thinking about those hideous, spongy things. They remind me of being in Southwestern Wisconsin with good, honest people, sharing a meal of fish (I skipped that- reasons later) and foraged morels. They remind me of a time when I used to be outdoorsy and the teensiest bit wild. These days, when I come across a dish in a magazine that has mushrooms as the star ingredient the page gets ripped out and thrust into my husband's hands. "Make this for me, please?" He's an excellent cook, even if we disagree on how long to cook them (he likes them on the raw side).
I have so many memories tied to food that are both good and bad. The time I choked an a fish bone from a fish fry: bad. The time I did it again: worse. I keep a wary eye on lake-caught fish fry to this day. The first time I had sushi with friends: so much fun. I already disliked fish and I couldn't imagine eating it raw, but I was hooked (pun intended), and the plum wine didn't hurt, either. My first oyster, purchased for me by my brother-in-law: a risk. I loved it. Sliding an oyster down is like taking a tiny gulp of fresh ocean. Now, the fried oysters I had in San Fransico's Chinatown: I didn't like so much. Duck tongue during the same meal? I tried it. It is off the bucket-list. Never to be repeated. Especially since I accidentally swallowed the tiny bone inside.
... Spicy Cheesy Bread from Madison's farmer's market? I dream of that and have never been able to find anything remotely like it here. Oregon strawberries? They are red all the way through and taste like no other strawberry I ever had in my life. My grandma's dumplings? Such a simple recipe, but I love it because it reminds me of my 13th birthday, when she came to my house and spent the day showing me how to make them. My other grandma makes -THE BEST- chocolate chip cookies. In our family she's famous for her fudge, but her chocolate chip cookies are my favorite. How does she get them like that? So soft. So perfect. Not too sweet. She tells me it is the Tollhouse recipe, but I'm not sure. It's probably grandma magic. Another sweet I am fond of: Kopp's Red Raspberry frozen custard.
... And then there are my auntie's fruit pizza and veggie pizza. Oh, it is not a party in my family unless my auntie brings something. I loved coming home from college and enjoying a slow morning breakfast made for me by my dad. I've tried to replicate his french toast and bacon- alas, I cannot. Or what about my brother's scrambled eggs? His are the simply the best. He's ruined scrambled eggs for me, though. I stopped liking them after I was spoiled by his. My poor husband- I won't eat them when he makes them. Brunch with my future sister-in-law at the local Greek diner is always better with her than any I've had down here (even if it is just toast, an over-easy egg, and greasy hash browns). My mom always knows to stockpile the Diet Coke and string cheese when I come for a visit. And I like sharing a meal with her after a day of card making at Archiver's in Middleton. I usually talk her into getting pretzel rolls from Sendik's because my youngest brother and I both love them.
... In my family, on both sides, Easter and Christmas are time for Adamczyk's Polish sausage. When I was little my brother and I frequently requested pork chops, peas, and mashed potatoes from my grandma. Interestingly enough, I only liked her pork chops. I didn't eat pork (bacon aside) otherwise growing up. Her peas were from a can, cooked in a rue that turned green. They were only loved by me and my brothers because they make my parents gag (I told you I have odd tastes). General Tsao's Tofu and an egg roll from Asian Kitchen in college were almost as good of a reward as the grades that came from late night studying with buddies in the library. Bluephie's, Dottie Dumpling's Dowry, Ian's Pizza, Harvest, Mickey's Dairy Bar... high brow, low brow, it didn't matter what the price point was, I miss those places equally.
... In Miami I found joy in tapas and bubble tea and Ms. Cheezious and red grapefruit frozen yogurt that is as sour as the sour gummi worms I top it with. Those are new food traditions I share with my husband. We discovered we like home-made risotto and spring rolls. I will have some of these foods when I leave Miami, but there will be some I leave behind. We will find new ones in our new place, wherever that may be. There are just so many foods and dishes that I miss from home, but looking back at this post, it is the people who make the food, provide the food, and the ones I share the food with that bring it to life.
So I didn't like the duck tongue, but I shared that with friends in a great city and it made us laugh. So I don't like lake-caught fish, but it was always caught by my grandpa or my dad and that made it special. I may not be the best cook, but there are some recipes I'm good at. I married a man who grew up with a rich family food history (his mom regularly wins blue ribbons at the State Fair, I could do an entire post on her amazing food alone). My food history may be different, but just as rich as his. I had grandparents who wanted to show me they loved me with food, but the thing I remember and admire about them the most was how they respected food by growing it, preparing it, and preserving it themselves. I have a grandma who always took the time to put out her signature fudge and cookies at nearly every gathering: fudge on a heavy plate covered in saran wrap and cookies in that iconic tin. I grew up with aunties (related by blood and not) who came to parties bearing Polish sausage and perfect dishes. I have a dad who can cook and grill really well, even if he doesn't do it that often. His respect for nature and hunting gave me a unique perspective on how I want to eat (a challenge here in Miami). I remember not wanting to try the duck and the rabbit that he caught, but those are some of the most memorable meals he made for us and I liked them. I have a mom who produces events that Martha Stewart would approve of. She makes her home the perfect backdrop for family gatherings and she brought my wedding plans to life. I'm sure good food would be good food eaten at a card table, but good food eaten in a warm and beautiful environment enhances the experience.
I have to clean the dishes now. My husband made a very good vegetarian lasagna... lasagna reminds me of my brother, he always asked for my mom to make it on his birthday.